If you write a book about yourself and turn it into a movie, the only way you can be sure of getting the writers, directors, actors, costumes and props you want to see is to produce it yourself the way Mark Fuhrman did with Murder in Greenwich.
The initial buzz about the made-for-television adaptation of Mark Fuhrman’s best selling book Murder in Greenwich left many key questions unanswered. Would Fuhrman’s investigation into the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley that he wrote about in his book be a straightforward documentary? Was it going to be turned into a drama? If so, would a major studio and accomplished actors cooperate? Who would produce it? Who would play Fuhrman? Would it be any good?
Murder in Greenwich first aired November 17, 2002 on the USA Television Network under the studio sponsorship of Sony Corporation. Sony is the parent company of Columbia, Touchstone, Tri-Star and Castle Rock. I gave it 3 stars out of 4 aesthetically for direction, acting, production values, background music and a cleverly devised script that put drama ahead of accuracy with respect to the murder or the book.
I took off half a star for lack of originality and another half star for the casting of Maggie Grace as 15-year-old murder victim and ghost narrator Martha Elizabeth Moxley. Whatever considerations went into landing her the part, her name and her character’s name had special significance to Mark Fuhrman as a former beat cop, homicide detective, aspiring screenwriter and movie producer. So did her face.
Martha did not have a cover girl face and she looked younger than she was. Maggie Grace does have a cover girl face, and she appears to be in her early 20s. I thought immediately of Sheryl Lee and Sherilyn Fenn, women in their early 20s playing 17-year-old girls in Twin Peaks. I was not surprised to see unmistakable links to them in Murder in Greenwich.
Making a movie is as complex as making a modern automobile. It takes a small army of artists, technicians, technical advisors and financial wheelers and dealers. No individual can do it all.
The executive producer handles the business end of the project. The director is usually responsible for supervising actors, shaping scenes, choosing shots, editing scripts, film and sound tracks. He generally has a say in casting along with the producer What he actually does depends on the producer. Producers hire some directors because of their ability to bring every element of a story together the way an orchestra conductor turns sheet music into a symphony. Producers hire other directors because they lend their professional expertise to following orders. Although veteran director Tom McLaughlin appears in the credits of Murder in Greenwich as the director, whatever vision he had for the movie is clearly overshadowed by producer Mark Fuhrman’s.
Somebody has to be the boss, to raise the money, to get a distributor, to hire, fire and decide what gets into the picture and what doesn’t. That person is the producer. Ultimately the job of everyone involved in the project is to give the producer and the studio what they want.
The producer answers only to the demands of his studio, his executive producer, his time constraints and the rules that govern language, sex and violence for the intended audience. They can get around some censorship restrictions with suggestive words, situations and symbolism the way Alfred Hitchcock did with Eva Mari Saint’s cigarette in North by Northwest. Fuhrman did it with a cigarette and a long neck bear bottle.
Producers have been known to do some or most of the writing under a pseudonym or the name of another writer.
In a Murder, She Wrote episode called “Murder According to Maggie” a producer named Elizabeth Margaret McCauley writes all of the scripts for a TV series called Beat Cop. Her friends call her Maggie. Keep in mind when you hear the words of Maggie Grace’s character in Murder in Greenwich that these are not the words of Martha Elizabeth Moxley or Maggie Grace. They are the words of the writer. Wherever you see a producer in the credits with strong writing credentials and a writer with weak credentials, you can bet that the producer did most of the writing. That’s what you see in Murder in Greenwich with Dave Erickson, whose only previous teleplay was aired in July 2002 and producer Mark Fuhrman, who had three best selling books. Erickson’s teleplay was about a sex scandal involving John F. Kennedy.
One way a producer can raise money, hire the professionals and get the distribution for the movie he wants to make is to bring aboard other producers with the money or contacts he needs. Mark Fuhrman recruited Jacobus Rose, Judith and Rachel Verno.
All but four of Jacobus Rose’s 31 previous movie credits list him as the production executive or co-production executive. The Verno sisters produced four television
movies between them, the most notable of which was the story of the black man who killed and wounded several white people on a Long Island commuter train. Some people saw it as anti-gun propaganda.
You can guess how Mark Fuhrman saw it.
The full title of Fuhrman’s movie is Dominick Dunne Presents: Murder in Greenwich, which suggest that Dominick Dunne had a role in the production. He wrote the foreword for Fuhrman’s book and a novel of his own loosely based on Martha Moxley’s murder called A Season in Purgatory. Someone else wrote the 1987 made for television movie screenplay version of his novel staring Sherilyn Fenn. Dunne also turned over to Fuhrman a confidential file from a private investigation firm hired by Ruston Skakel to learn if his sons Thomas or Michael had anything to do with the murder. Fuhrman used that file to launch his own private investigation. Dunne’s name does not appear in the movie credits.
A name that appears in the Murder in Greenwich credits as the technical consultant should probably be listed as a co-writer as well. Stephen Weeks is the man responsible for giving all of Fuhrman’s books a professional polish. When a character in the movie asks his character what he does his character says that he corrects Fuhrman’s grammar. Fuhrman’s character calls him “partner” and that’s how he is portrayed.
The toughest casting decision for Murder in Greenwich had to be for the role of Mark Fuhrman. Christopher Meloni is a convincing Fuhrman in Fuhrman’s trademark brown leather aviator jacket delivering his lines in Fuhrman-like style. The real Mark Fuhrman is at least three inches taller than Meloni but Meloni has roughly the same build. He carries himself like Fuhrman except that his toes don’t point forward when he walks the way Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman’s killer did. You’ll see why this “little oversight” matters in the last third of the movie when a retired Greenwich detective tells Fuhrman, “You’re the only one here who cut and ran.”
In Fuhrman’s Murder in Brentwood book he attributes his use of the n-word on the McKinny tapes to a character he assembled from aspects of several characters to “shock” McKinny. Johnny Cochran called him a genocidal racist. In Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich movie his character alludes to Cochran’s remark when his parole officer says that the people of Greenwich are going to see him only as a convicted felon, a perjurer who set O.J. Simpson free. Meloni as Fuhrman says, “You forgot genocidal racist.” He says it as though it isn’t true and everyone who knows the real Mark Fuhrman knows it isn’t true.
The picture Fuhrman paints of himself in his books is a tactless, overbearing hard ass to strangers but a warm and gentle husband, father and friend. He is macho, down-to-earth and thick skinned. He says what he thinks and admits his mistakes. He has a passion for justice and zero tolerance for incompetence, moral cowardice, politics, vacillation or pretentiousness. Like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holms and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Fuhrman’s Fuhrman is a flawed hero with a brilliant mind and a heart of gold.
Christopher Meloni captures these qualities so well that when you see him as Fuhrman you don’t see the actor who played a killer in OZ with Ernie Hudson or the stupid gangster in Bound (’96) with John Ryan. You don’t see Meloni as a jilted lover in Runaway Bride (’99) with Julia Roberts and Richard Geer or a cop in Law & Order with Paul Sorvino and George Dzundza. You don’t see him as a football player with O.J. Simpson in HBO’s 1st & Ten (’85-90). You see him as Mark Fuhrman.
Another good Murder in Greenwich casting choice was Robert Forster as retired Greenwich Connecticut Detective Steve Carroll. Forster appeared in over 80 movies prior to Murder in Greenwich including Outside Ozona (’97) with Kevin Pollak, Sherilyn Fenn, David Paymer, Penelope Ann Miller and Swoosie Kurtz. He co-stared as a killer psychiatrist with Chris Sarandon, Fairuza Balk and Amanda Plummer in American Perfekt (’97). He was a doctor in Maniac Cop 3 (’93) with Robert Davi and Paul Gleason. In South Beach (’92) with Fred Williamson, Peter Fonda, Gary Busey, Stella Stevens and Vanity, he was a cop. He was Catholic priest in Pieces of Dreams (’70) and a hit man in The Lady in Red (’78).
Robert Forster is no stranger to popular television series. He appeared in two episodes of Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury and one episode of Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris, Clarence Gilyard Jr. and Noble Willingham.
I began writing The Smoking Gun on the seemingly shaky premise that the man who murdered Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson got most of his ideas from the movies. I posted it on the Internet in 1999. I posted the first draft of The Smoking Gun 2 on the Internet in the fall of 2001. The second book dealt primarily with ideas for the murder and the frame-up that the killer took from TV shows.
My inspiration for both books came from something peculiar I noticed when I was doing research for Iago in Brentwood in 1997. By then I realized that every bit of evidence that pointed to O.J. as the killer – from the trace evidence on Bundy and Rockingham to the bloody shoeprints and leather gloves – also pointed to Mark Fuhrman. The story that the evidence told, supplemented by Fuhrman’s notes, his discoveries, his letter to the city attorney and the pictures of him pointing to the Bundy glove made O.J. look too much like Shakespeare’s Othello.
The film version of Othello that reminds me most of Mark Fuhrman was released by Columbia in December 1995. I didn’t include it in the first two Smoking Gun books because it was obviously made after the Bundy murders. When you see Kenneth Branagh as Iago in his brown leather jacket you’ll know why I included it here. His character is the only one in the movie wearing a similar jacket and a woman named Caroline is the costume designer. Mark Fuhrman made his first TV appearance wearing his leather jacket in October 1996. His wife’s name was Caroline. She plays an important part in Murder in Greenwich. She supports Fuhrman all the way. Iago’s wife plays an important part in Othello. She sinks her man.
Where there was an apparent Othello in Brentwood it seemed to me that there would be an Iago, a racist, ambitious, master liar intent on making a good name for himself by robbing a celebrity of his good name. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen or read the play, here it is in a nutshell:
Othello is a Moor in 17th century Venice, a wealthy black man living in a wealthy white community. He is a big celebrity who marries a beautiful white woman name Desdemona. He appoints a young officer named Cassio as his second in command and returns from a successful military campaign against the Turks in Cyprus to a hero’s welcome.
Iago is Othello’s trusted advisor. He believes that Othello should have promoted him instead of Cassio so he plots to bring both of them down.
Cassio has a weakness. He can’t hold his wine. He gets drunk easily and starts acting like a crazy man. When he tells Iago that he has already had his limit, Iago talks him into taking one more drink and talks another man into provoking a fight with him. Cassio bites on the hook and ends up stabbing a man who intercedes. Othello thinks the world of Cassio but he can’t have his top officer behaving that way. He strips him of his rank in front of his men and gives it to Iago. Pretending to be Cassio’s friend, Iago persuades him to prevail upon Desdemona to get him back in Othello’s good graces. Desdemona knows how highly her husband thinks of Cassio so she goes along with it. Iago uses their furtive exchanges to suggest to Othello that they are having an affair and laughing about it behind his back.
Iago’s plan is to make Othello so angry that he will kill Desdemona and Cassio and bring disgrace upon himself for doing it. He positions himself to insure that Othello is charged, convicted and executed for murder. In other words, he plots a triple murder using Othello to kill two innocent people and using the state to kill Othello.
It takes a lot to convince Othello that his wife and his former chief lieutenant are guilty of anything. He likes Cassio. He loves Desdemona. He trusts them both. He also trusts Iago. It is against his nature to be jealous but Iago plants the idea in his mind that he should be. So when Iago persists in making obtuse suggestions that innocent things Cassio and Desdemona do have a guilty explanation, Othello begins to listen. Iago “reluctantly” tells Iago about an incident where Cassio confessed his guilt in a dream. Othello is angry – with Iago. He is prone to epileptic seizures and he fears that he might be going insane. He demands proof that what now appears to be true is true.
Iago is ready to take his act to the next level. At his urging, his wife steals a distinctive handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona as his first gift to her in a tender moment of love. Without his wife’s knowledge, Iago plants it in Cassio’s room. Cassio picks it up with no idea where it came from or what it means and leaves it with a woman of easy virtue. Iago arranges for Othello to secretly observe the woman throwing the handkerchief back at Cassio and making a big deal about him leaving it with her. That’s enough to give Othello a seizure but it’s not enough to convince him that Cassio and Desdemona are betraying him.
Othello does not tell Desdemona what he suspects. To get at the truth, he uses a Mark Fuhrman interrogation technique. He lies a little, embellishing on how precious the handkerchief is to him and asks her if she still has it. He makes so much of its value that Desdemona is afraid to tell him that she lost the damn thing so she lies to him and tells him that she has it but won’t show it to him because of the rude way he asked for it. Her stupid lie convinces Othello that Iago was right. He secretly commissions Iago to kill Cassio and he kills Desdemona himself.
Not everything goes according to Iago’s plans. While he was setting up Othello to look like a rage killer, he was also setting up a born patsy named Rodirego to do his dirty work. Rodirego is obsessed with Desdemona and Iago talks him into killing Cassio to clear his way to her. With Iago posted as a lookout, Rodirego ambushes Cassio but botches the job. Cassio fights back. Iago sees that Rodirego is no match for Cassio. He steps out of the shadows to stab Cassio in the leg from behind and ducks back behind cover. Rodirego is too incompetent to finish the job. Cassio cries “Murder!” Witnesses appear. Iago leaps into action and kills Rodirego to make sure he doesn’t spill the beans.
Iago’s wife learns enough from Cassio and Othello to figure out why Othello called Desdemona a whore and killed her. She points the finger of blame where it belongs. Iago stabs his wife to death with his sword. Othello wounds Iago with his dagger and kills himself..
Whoever killed Ron and Nicole and framed O.J. must have known that story. If you look at it from their killer’s point of view, most of the major elements are there in broad stokes. A rich black “hero” in a rich white neighborhood kills his white wife in a jealous rage. Innocent people are set up to appear guilty and the entire system of justice is bent to serve the ambitions of one man. The trick is to learn from Rodirego and Iago’s mistakes. You make sure that you can trust your lookout. You don’t have to risk a ferocious battle. All you have to do is make it look like one. You do all of the dirty work yourself and find another use for your “Rodirego.” That’s what you get with Mark Fuhrman as Iago in Brentwood and his “friend” Ron Shipp’s testimony about O.J.’s dream.
You can lay dozens of movies on top of that scenario, taking a little of this and that from each to fit the existing landscape and individuals involved. That’s what it looks like the killer did on Bundy and Rockingham. You see the same pattern in Fuhrman’s Murder in Brentwood. In Stephen King’s Needful Things with Max Von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia and Amanda Plummer, the Devil in the guise of a curio shop owner uses Iago’s tactics to bring down a whole town. But that’s as far as King goes with Iago. Fuhrman goes much further.
Some people will never see enough evidence to convince them that dovetailing and overlapping movie and TV patterns left by the killer of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson came out of Mark Fuhrman’s mind. No one should have to be convinced that the evidence of movie and TV borrowing in Murder in Greenwich came out of Mark Fuhrman’s mind. It’s his movie. If he didn’t think of it he certainly approved it. You can see from the dramatic first shot that he improved on the Belle Haven Yacht Club memorial plaque in Dominic Dunne’s 1997 TV Interview with her cemetery footstone. The words embossed on the memorial plaque are nowhere near as photogenic as the ones on the footstone in the movie framed by brightly colored autumn leaves blowing in the breeze.
The plaque says, “MARTHA…YOUR SMILE WILL ALWAYS BRING… HAPPINESS AND HOPE…TO YOUR FRIENDS…1975. Fuhrman’s book and movie have the footstone with the words, “DAUGHTER…MARTHA ELIZABETH… MOXLEY…1960 – 1975. The word “daughter,” the name “Elizabeth” and the birth year added to the death year on the stone have links to Fuhrman that the metal and concrete plaque doesn’t have.
Fuhrman’s tombstone choice looks like a symbol just as pizzas were often symbolic of tombstones in other movie links to Fuhrman. It can stand for many things that we know about Fuhrman. 1975 was not only Martha Moxley’s death year; it was the “death” year of Fuhrman’s career in the Marines and the birth year of his career with the LAPD. Murder in Greenwich is packed with symbols that have multiple meanings.
In Action Jackson (’84) you see the Detroit Yacht Club's home on Belle Isle. In that movie Craig T. Nelson’s character, frames a former Detroit homicide detective for murder. In Poltergeist (’82), Nelson is family man Steve Freeling. Dominick Dunne’s real daughter Dominique Dunne is Steve Feeling’s daughter Dana. Dominique was murdered on Halloween 1982. Martha Moxley’s body was found on Halloween. She was killed on October 30, known as Devil’s Night in Detroit where arson fires made international headlines. Martha’s family brought Detroit homicide detectives to Greenwich.
Martha had a cat named Tiger. When the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in October 1968, national TV broadcast pictures of riotous fans setting fires and turning over cars. Around the time the Tigers won the 1984 World Series, Mark Fuhrman was visiting Rockingham were O.J. beat up his car with a baseball bat. Fuhrman made it sound as though O.J. symbolically beat his wife with the bat as an omen of things to come. The burning Jack O’ Lantern in Murder in Greenwich combined with a baseball bat smashing it has to be an allusion to Detroit and O.J.
Time alone often dictates a moviemaker’s use of symbols. To fit the allotted time and to simplify the cast of characters some real people in Fuhrman’s movie had to be left out or compressed into one character. Some long, complex events had to be scratched and shorter coherent ones invented to cover the gaps. Some lines had to be given to other people. Some scenes had to be cut. You see these things in all “fact-based” dramas for practical reasons, as opposed to artistic ones. They have to be done to avoid legal hassles, to compress time and to give viewers a story they can follow. You can do better with more time but not much better. The thing to look for is what the person in charge does with the time he has to work with.
In Murder in Greenwich the person in charge was Mark Fuhrman.
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison
Copyright © 2004 Smartfellows Press